Victor Anichebe’s torn groin, suffered on international duty with Nigeria, has left David Moyes with a striking quandary ahead of the visit of Aston Villa on Saturday. With Louis Saha perennially struggling for fitness and Jermaine Beckford and Yakubu allowed to leave on transfer deadline day, Moyes will be forced to turn to either new signing Denis Stracqualursi, youngster Apostolos Vellios or a makeshift attack involving Tim Cahill.
Moyes’ predilection for playing a single striker may antagonise some Everton supporters but at times like this it is a blessing, since the manager will not be forced to tinker with his preferred system too much regardless of who leads the line. The dearth of options is, nevertheless, a frustration which could cost Everton should the game with Villa not be going their way, leaving Moyes with so few alternatives on the substitutes’ bench to try and turn the tide. Against Queens Park Rangers Moyes was booed when withdrawing Beckford, the only striker on the pitch, in favour of Marouane Fellaini while Everton were trailing, but that scenario looks set to become a recurring feature of the Toffees’ games over the next few months.
Anichebe’s injury is not the main reason Everton are facing a striker shortage, however. The decision to let both Yakubu and Beckford leave, with only Stracqualursi moving in the opposite direction, immediately left Everton a player short. Yakubu may have been persona non grata around Goodison Park but he was at least an experienced Premier League striker, rather than the combined three league appearances – and no starts – for Vellios and Stracqualursi. The Argentine may prove a revelation in the Premier League – he certainly has an impressive recent scoring record in his native country – but relying on the injury-prone Saha, the inconsistent Anichebe and the unproven Vellios and Stracqualursi was a gamble from Moyes, one that looks unlikely to pay off now Anichebe has pulled up lame.
Having received what was considered a good offer for Beckford and allowed the former Leeds United striker to leave, Moyes gambled on getting enough game time from Saha, and enough goals from Anichebe and Stracqualursi, to not have to rely so heavily on youngsters like Vellios or temporary strikers like Cahill or Fellaini. Managers always live and die by their decisions and Moyes is no different, but the decision to allow two senior forwards to leave without a solid replacement is arguably one of the riskiest of his Everton tenure. Operating with as small a squad as Moyes has done for the last two seasons will always lend itself to such problems, but the absence of a reliable, proven centre-forward is a problem Everton endured last season as well. The failure to correct it, perhaps driven by the bank’s stranglehold on the club’s finances, could cost the side in a similar manner as 12 months previously.
Everton managed only four goals in their first six league games last season – with three coming in one game against Manchester United – a run that saw then fail to win until October, and although the Toffees got off the mark against Blackburn Rovers a week ago, a similar scoreless streak could spell the end of Everton’s European ambitions once again.
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